Iceland, the land of fire and ice, is Europe's westernmost country and Europe's second largest island nation after Great Britain. The island bordering the Arctic Circle lies between 63 and 66 ° north latitude in the north-west Atlantic. Iceland is the most sparsely populated country in Europe. Nature lovers in particular appreciate this fact.
Iceland seen from the sea
Iceland - facts and figures
At the beginning of 2023, more than 387.758 people lived on the 103.000 square kilometer volcanic island. Iceland's area is almost equal to the added area of the two federal states of Baden-Württemberg and Bavaria. While in these countries an average of 227 people share one square kilometer, only 3,5 people live in one square meter in Iceland. More than half of all Icelanders live in the greater Reykjavik area.
Iceland's capital Reykjavik - view from Hallgrimskirkja tower
Iceland is a land of natural wonders. Four fifths of the country are uninhabited. No wonder, more than eleven percent of the country is covered by glaciers, and in the inner highlands there is an almost uninhabited desert. Iceland's mightiest glacier is Vatnajökull in the southeast of the country. Its ice cap is up to 1.000 meters thick. The highest mountain in Iceland is the snow-capped, 2.110 meter high Hvannadalshnúkur. Rivers, waterfalls and lakes are seen in abundance. Europe's most energetic waterfall is Dettifoss Fall in the north-east of the country, and Europe's largest waterfall is Gulfoss Fall, easily accessible from Reykjavik.
Iceland - Gulfoss waterfall - Europe's most powerful waterfall
Iceland is the largest volcanic island in the world. It has a seemingly infinite potential of geothermal forces. This reservoir is used nationwide for heating and power generation. More than 80 percent of energy consumption and all electricity generation now come from renewable energy sources.
Iceland - Steam of the Haukadalur
Iceland's sub-polar climate
Despite its location on the Arctic Circle and despite its mighty glaciers, Iceland's temperatures are moderate. The summers are cool and the winters are mild. The weather changes constantly and rainfall is abundant. In the southern parts of the country they can reach up to 2.000 mm per year. Up to 4.000 mm of rain and snow fall in the area of Vatnajökull. The best and most digestible travel time for Iceland is between mid-June and mid-September. This is the warmest time.
Iceland's fauna and flora
Iceland's fauna is not very biodiverse. More than 3.000 reindeer live in the eastern highlands. They are descendants of 13 reindeer originally imported from Norway. Icelandic sheep, cattle and Icelandic horses have prevailed among the farm animals.
Grazing Icelandic horses
Iceland's bird life is famous. What is of rank and name is represented. To name just a few species of birds: Northern gannets, fulmars or guillemots, wild swans, ducks and birds of prey have found a home in Iceland. Various species of whales cavort in the sea off Iceland. Although Icelandic fishermen practice whaling, there is no need to worry about the mammals. The estimated numbers suggest abundant stocks.
There is a lack of forest in Iceland. The originally abundant stands of trees were cleared in earlier times for the purpose of agriculture. Only one percent of the country is currently covered with trees, although the state planted around 6 million trees annually.
Trees at Thingvellir
Iceland was discovered by Swedish Vikings in the 9th century. The country was then settled mainly by Norwegian and Celtic immigrants from the British Isles. In 1397 Iceland and Norway came under the influence of the Danish royal family. For a long time, until the Icelandic Republic was founded in 1944, Iceland remained under the influence of Denmark.
Statue of Leifur Eiriksson
Fisheries are the backbone of the Icelandic economy. Fishery products make up more than a third of total exports of goods. Up until the global financial crisis in 2008, the expansion of the energy industry and the liberalization of the financial sector brought the country high economic growth for a long time. Tourism is increasingly developing into an economic mainstay in the country. Between 2010 and 2019, the number of guests almost quintupled from 489.000 to 2,34 million.
Reykjavik's Perlan hot water tank
Iceland - a busy cruise destination
Many tourists visit Iceland by cruise ship. Circumnavigations of the island with smaller and expedition ships are particularly popular. During the tours around the island, the ships call at several ports in addition to Reykjavik. Large cruise ships stop in Reykjavik on Atlantic crossings or special Northern European trips. We describe the attractions waiting for visitors in Reykjavik and in the vicinity of the capital under Reykjavik attractions and under Reykjavik Custom Tours.
Worth knowing and useful
Visitors arrive in Reykjavik by plane or cruise ship. Larger ships dock at Skarfabakki quay in the container port. The distance to the city center is four kilometers.
Reykjavik - cruise ship at Skarfabakki quay
Shuttle buses take passengers from the cruise terminal to the city. You start at the branch of the tourist office in the harbor. The tickets for the shuttle bus are sold there. Rental cars can also be booked and gifts purchased in the office. Currency exchange and internet access are also offered.
Visitors can also use local public transport buses to get into the city. The yellow bus stop is 300 meters from the terminal. The buses run every half hour and are recommended. The single tickets cost 350 ISK (2,20 euros). The fare is counted and thrown into a box next to the driver. Tickets are not issued. If you want to change, ask the driver for a "Transfer Ticket" (skiptimiði).
Hop-on hop-off buses also operate in Reykjavik. The buses stop at the cruise terminal. The journey currently costs 26 euros. The red buses go to the most important destinations in the city (16 stations).
Reykjavik's tourist information office makes various suggestions for city tours. Leaflets are available in the tourist information offices.
Reykjavik - City Center Tourist Information Office - Adalstraeti
The bus excursions to other destinations can be booked in advance on the Internet, via Reykjavik's tourist office at the cruise terminal or centrally in the city. If tickets are ordered over the Internet, it is advisable to pay for the journey with a credit card. If the ship does not call at Reykjavik for weather reasons, most of the payment will be refunded.
Explanations for individual bus tours are mainly given in English. - The 6-hour Golden Circle Tour costs 50 euros per person. There is a one-hour break at the geysers; if you feel hungry, you can have a bite to eat in the nearby, modern buffet restaurant. Souvenirs are sold in the shop next door.
Iceland shop by the geysers
Renting a car could be considered for stays of several days. Iceland's road traffic is no problem for us Europeans. Outside of Reykjavik, the driver moves on excellent, almost empty roads.
Update May 2023